I could wrestle with the implications of a “dire cancer prognosis” forever before reaching a definitive conclusion of exactly what I would do. Ultimately, I know my decision would be greatly influenced by my mother’s own battle with a life-threatening disease where she was given only months to live. Her struggle against this illness, like James “Rhio” O’Connor’s struggle against mesothelioma, is a shining example of an individual’s ability to prove the doctors wrong. After all, the first step to overcoming an illness is realizing a “dire prognosis” is not a death sentence.
Cancer is generally understood, but doctors have not mastered the treatment of certain types of cancer. This lack of proven and broadly effective treatment can be attributed to the utter uniqueness of cancer. Almost like a fingerprint, cancer varies from person to person, while a prognosis is based on the previous outcomes of patients with similar diagnoses (Clemmitt “Preventing” 25; “Prognosis” n.p.).When each cancer stems from genetic mutations unique to each individual, understanding that a prognosis is an opinion or assumption is key to conquering it (Clemmitt “New” 38).
The second key is self-education. Both O’Connor and my mother took their health into their own hands by personally researching what their diagnosis meant—what the medical jargon implied about the obstacle they were facing. For scholarly information, a trip to the library can be very rewarding, but finding resources online can also be a convenient one-stop research step. For instance, to get more information on the nature of cancer, I visited the CQ Researcher online library (found through a simple Google search). Discovered during high school, this free—and more importantly, professional—resource has become one of my favorite research tools.
Like I mentioned before, a trip to the library can be full of current information. My experience with libraries may be relatively limited, but I know that school libraries are more research-oriented than public ones. Having a previously established connection to a local university or college library is fantastic, but the probability the average person would have one when diagnosed with cancer is small. Depending on the institution, gaining access to the library can be easy. At my college, a small fee is paid for three years of access to all materials on-campus, including the databases (“Corban” n.p.). The only way to know whether one’s local colleges and universities offer public access is to ask.
The databases I referenced before are a door into an entire world of information most people do not know exists. One can search thousands of journals and reliable online publications for the most current information on virtually any topic. This includes cancer research and treatments. The purpose of researching one’s diagnosis is to gain information on the nature of one’s cancer and what treatments have worked for, or are being explored by, others. Yes, each cancer is unique, but a combination of different tactics adopted from several viewpoints can be successfully combined in an equally unique way. This is how my mother has battled her illness, and I sense this is precisely how O’Connor attacked his cancer. Researching is a crucial step toward progress and perhaps even healing.
Research should not be limited to only sitting behind a computer, of course. The age-old advice of “talk to your doctor” still has merit. Prod his or her mind for any possible treatments, other doctors that might be familiar with those treatments, patients that are going through or have survived the same cancer one has, as well as any other sources of information regarding ground-breaking treatments and research he or she may know of. Actually talking to people not only provides the most recent information, but also helps one learn of opinions and experiences alongside those black and white facts.
Of course, it would be prudent to do one’s own research on any off-the-wall or innovative treatments recommended for one’s cancer. History has shown, especially in the battle against breast cancer that took a wrong turn in the 1990’s with bone marrow transplants, that doctors and researchers can “share [their] patients’ desperation…” (Clemmitt “How” 37). Letting someone else’s enthusiasm or excitement get in the way of one’s own logic could be fatal. There is hope for everyone when it comes to battling cancer, but each individual has to find his hope in the right place.
What I believe is the hardest aspect to fighting a notoriously tough cancer is the knowledge that no proven effective treatments have been developed since the 1970’s (Clemmitt “Preventing” 29). It’s hard to be optimistic about new, up-and-coming cancer “cures” when facing a statistic like that. What if my cancer were inoperable? Surgery is the oldest and most effective treatment of cancer in general (Bettelheim 795)! Without possible surgery, that optimistic outlook is, again, a hard outlook to maintain. Even chemotherapy is usually limited to cancers that have already spread (Bettelheim 799). If my tumor happens to be sitting in just one terribly crucial spot in my body, chemotherapy would probably be a waste of energy, time and money. Radiation is a beast all its own—it is a relatively effective treatment, but it is also toxic enough to kill patients and cause the very cancer one is attempting to treat (Researcher n.p.). Despite its drawbacks, it is usually an excellent tool to delay the progress of cancer when combined with other methods (Clemmitt “Preventing” 20). Taking it out of the picture, along with surgery and chemotherapy, brings optimism to its knees.
Regardless, the search for hope in the right treatment certainly has to continue. The combination of a change in diet, habits, pharmaceuticals and perseverance of a bright, thankful perspective is a general recipe for health. With cancer, the important part becomes what separates the cancer’s battle plan from one’s own: just how in-depth and strategic will one’s arsenal be? Just as my mother consumed oxygenated water in hopes of maintaining the oxygen-levels in her bloodstream because her lungs could not, so will a wide variety of efforts conquer cancer (Clemmitt “Preventing” 27).
There are various alternative treatments for cancer worth researching—from vaccines against cancer, to diet changes, and to drugs that claim to impede cancer cells’ ability to divide (Clemmitt “New” 38; Clemmitt “Getting” 40). As mentioned before, caution and logic need to be a critical part of the research process because of the possibility of blind-hope and irrational decisions based on little evidence. Indeed, logic is the third key to conquering cancer. Some important questions to remember are: What is the nature of my cancer? and Is this drug designed for my cancer? For example, the vaccine mentioned earlier is simply not designed for advanced or fast-paced cancers.
I mentioned earlier that the search for an effective treatment plan is a search for hope. Truly, it is a search for the hope that I could spend more time with my family. It is a search for the hope that I will not die from an ugly disease beyond my control. It is a search for the hope of a resolution of what will inevitably be a tiresome, lengthy battle. Ultimately, it is a search for the hope that there is still more that God has planned for me.
I also said that the perseverance of a bright and thankful perspective ought to be part of one’s path to health. This perspective is truly impossible without a reason for living. If I were struggling against cancer on my own, without the support of family, friends and fellow believers… well, I doubt my ability to keep that struggle up for very long. What would I have to live for if there were no special people for me to live for? The poet G. Bailey expresses it with more clarity than I: “Amid life’s quests, there seems but worthy one, to do men good” (Edwards 697).
My endeavor against a dire cancer prognosis could not be a solitary one. My mother once told me that the only reason she continues to fight is for her children. There is no object, incentive or worldly thing that could persuade me to endure the hardships promised of cancer. No, not one. Only the prospect of continuing to serve others, both close friends and strangers, could compel me to not give in. Some might read this and question my sanity. After all, humanity’s basic instinct is to live.
The apostle Paul wrote that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Philippians 1:21). Many consider this verse only in a spiritual way, but in context, Paul truly is speaking of physical death. He says that to live is to be able to continue to serve Christ on Earth. However, to die is to escape the Earth, the closest thing to hell Paul will ever see, and be reunited with Christ in heaven. With this in mind, I reiterate that the only motivation I might have for fighting for my life would be to serve others, and in turn, serve Christ. Having a motivation for one’s battle is the fourth key to winning the war.
I have stressed before the importance of rational thinking in the decision making process. Not only will it be difficult for me to maintain an unbiased perspective, but also it would be difficult for my close friends and family. I have to keep this into consideration when I involve them in the selection of whatever concoction of treatments I will pursue. Yes, my family would be included in the decision-making process, but above all I would hold to God’s plan first and reason second.
Ideally, this is how I would handle a dire cancer prognosis. Late nights at the local library, early mornings in line at the doctor’s office, lunches with patients or researchers, afternoons with those I love and critical evenings searching after the will of God would all encompass my life. Ideally, I would beat whatever my cancer, and I would continue to serve others. Ideally, I would do this all with dignity. Others have gone before me, not only O’Connor and my mother, but also millions of cancer patients and those who have faced dire prognoses—some who lived and some who died—but all who had the dignity to never give in.
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By: Thomas, Casey